The month of January hasn't been kind to the Lakeland Union High School boys' hockey team.
The Thunderbirds entered the weekend having lost two of their last three games in the Great Northern Conference, while a rash of injuries has decimated the lineup.
Lakeland lost captain and third leading scorer Max Ertl for the season with an injury and the list grew on Friday night as freshman phenom Max Toijala was injured and the timetable on his return is unknown.
The T-Birds felt those losses on Friday when they hosted Tomahawk in GNC play. The Hatchets were a team Lakeland had beaten 7-2 earlier in the season, but another slow start cost them yet another conference loss.
Tomahawk scored two goals in the opening period and was eventually able to win the game in overtime, 3-2.
"We were down 2-0 in the first period and stayed that way into the third period. They came out and out-worked us early," LUHS head coach Ken Thanig said. "We picked it up in the third period and we ended up tying it up and getting it into overtime. We actually had one called off that should've been a goal, but it wasn't. We ended up in overtime, had one breakdown and the game was over."
Tomahawk scored less than three minutes into the game and went up 2-0 less than 10 minutes into the game, a trend that has cost Lakeland in several losses this season.
The T-Birds were able to battle back and tied the game, getting two goals 51 seconds apart midway through the third period.
Aidan Byrnes scored on a pass from Keegan McJoynt, which was the latter's first career high school point. Moments later, Bryce Gilbertson scored on a pass from Bret Benson to tie the game with 9:05 to play.
"They work hard. Sometimes we're not always mentally prepared to play, but they play 100 percent all the time," Thanig said. "We fought our way back, which is good. When we're down, we know we can get back in the game. We had to switch things around with Max (Toijala) getting injured so that threw a wrench into things. We had a tough time generating offense, but the third period we generated more than enough offense. We had some good scoring chances. It was just one of those nights we couldn't put one away."
Not being able to finish loomed large in overtime as Lakeland failed to put any of its five shots in the back of the net.
Six minutes into the extra period, Tomahawk was able to capitalize on the second goal of the night by Jordan Tomaszewski as the Hatchets pulled the upset.
"We had the puck down in their zone and couldn't cash in. They get the puck for a short time and one defensive breakdown and the guy beat (Nathan) Pitek from the high slot," Thanig said.
Nathan Pitek made 28 saves in goal for Lakeland.
T-Birds edge Houghton
Lakeland looked to avenge the loss on Saturday by squaring off against Houghton, Mich. Originally the T-Birds were supposed to play Rice Lake, but that game was canceled.
Houghton's varsity squad is ranked in the top 100 nationally, so the Gremlins sent the JV squad, still quite formidable.
Lakeland was able to get its young players a significant amount of playing time in the game to prepare for the remainder of the season, while also earning a 6-3 win.
"I tried to play three lines and then we got into special teams. This Houghton team is a hard working team and they made us work," Thanig said. "I think our kids took them too lightly at first and they kept it tight. We found out we had to go out and work hard to overcome it. That loss last night (Friday) and then pick up our game tonight - they weren't going to hand it to us."
Kyle Schaub scored on a pass from Caleb Menzia to start the scoring, but Houghton answered as the period ended tied at one.
In the second period, the teams traded goals, but Lakeland was able to get one more than its opponent to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.
Freshman Joe Beda scored the first goal of his high school career on a pass from Drake Klopatek, the lone Mercer student on the squad. After Houghton tied it again, another freshman, Victor Masayesva scored a short-handed goal. Byrnes scored another on assists from McJoynt and Tyler Carroll.
In the third period, Bret Benson scored and added an assist on Gilbertson's power play goal to pull away.
Carroll finished with three assists in the game for the Lakeland (11-9, 6-5 GNC), which travels to Antigo for another tough conference tilt tonight at 7 p.m.
Nick Sabato may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @SabatoNick.